One in five patients who turn up in New Zealand hospital emergency departments in the small hours of the morning are there because of booze, a study has found.
On the eve of a major liquor law change, the "snapshot" survey by the Australasian College for Emergency Services found 18 per cent of emergency patients were "there as a result of the harmful use of alcohol".
The survey covered 14 emergency departments, with the "snapshot" taken at 2am last Saturday.
Emergency staff were fed-up with having to deal with drunkenness, principal investigator Dr Diana Egerton-Warburton said.
"Emergency physicians are sick and tired of dealing with the 'bloody idiots' who drink alcohol to excess and end up in the ED. If you work in an ED with one in five patients affected by alcohol, it's more like a pub than a hospital," she said. "This is intolerable for staff and unfair on other patients."
The answer, though, could be the new Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act, which came into force at midnight, bringing with it tough measures intended to reduce alcohol harm.
Under the new rules, drunk people are not allowed to be in bars, and staff are forbidden to serve anyone that is intoxicated. Bars and bar owners can be fined up to $5000.
The act defines "intoxication" as when two or more of the following are evident: appearance is affected, behaviour is impaired, co-ordination is impaired, speech is impaired.
To help bar staff, police teamed up with Hospitality New Zealand, Health Promotion Agency and the New Zealand Institute of Licensing Inspectors to create a pocket sized colour-co-ordinated card which can be used to assess drunkenness.
"Sober" patrons will have coherent, clear speech, normal tone and volume and "may be talkative". If a person is "influenced", staff should intervene. According to the card, a person under the influence will be "overly talkative, opinionated and interrupts, may stumble over words" and occasionally stagger.
Once a patron hits the "intoxicated" level, it's time to deny and remove them.
Those people will be slurring, have difficulty forming words, be loud and repetitive, lose their train of thought and be "nonsensical" or unintelligible.
They'll spill drinks, stumble, trip, weave, walk into objects and be unable to stand or sit straight. Physically, they will have bloodshot or glazed eyes, won't be able to focus, will look tired or fall asleep and be "dishevelled".
How to spot, and deal with a drunk
Speech Coordination Appearance Behaviour
S - Coherent, clear speech, normal tone/volume, may be talkative
C - Coordinated, balanced, standing without help or support
A - Tidy, clear eyes, alert
B - Sensible but may be more relaxed
Monitor and serve responsibly
S - May be overly talkative, opinionated and interrupt, may stumble over words, becoming loud; inappropriate language, jokes, comments
C - Slow-delayed reactions, swagger, occasional stagger or sway
A - Vacant or blank expression, alcohol on breath, may look untidy
B - Overly friendly or withdrawn, inappropriate or risky actions, argumentative, annoying, fading attention, increased consumption
S - Slurring, difficulty forming words, loud, repetitive, loses train of thought, nonsensical, unintelligible
C - Spills drink, stumbles, trips, walks into objects, can't stand unaided or still straight
A - Galzed/bloodshot eyes, unable to focus, tired, asleep, disheveled
B - Seriously inappropriate actions, language; aggressive, rude, belligerent, obnoxious behavior affecting others
Deny and remove
Drinkers welcome fines for drunks
Anything that stops drunks ruining their evenings out is a good thing, say a group of Auckland bar-goers.
They welcomed the early closing times, spot fines for public intoxication and people with fake IDs and police having the power to film patrons, ban shot-glass drinks or glass vessels and issue $5000 fines for bar owners in breach.
"My dad says nothing good happens after 2am and I stick by that," said Anna-Marie Subritzky. The 31-year-old insurance worker said she had no problem being filmed, as long the footage was used appropriately.
"With all the social media out there and people filming themselves out there getting drunk it doesn't make any difference ... surely they will have some laws around how they can use that footage.
"For us as patrons, really, really drunk people are never fun to be in a bar with anyway so hopefully we won't be those people who are going to get kicked out."
Fellow bar-goer, Hayden Cole, 43, also supported the changes.
"As long as they don't get too heavy-handed about it and pick on certain bars ... as long as there are checks and balances, it's a good idea in principle."
• Do you think the intoxication indicators are accurate? Email Anna Leask with your views.